Kampung Senah Rayang – a model of inter-faith harmony


The longhouse at Kampung Senah Rayang.

A river flows through the village.

IN a village on the outskirt of Kuching, people of two different faiths live side by side and help each other in almost everything and in every way.

They are from the same ethnic group, speak the same language but have different faiths. Some are Muslims, some are Christians.

But they are still like brothers and sisters, relatives, cousins and close friends and have been living in this way since time immemorial.

Kampung Senah Rayang is a Bidayuh village off the Link Road in Padawan area, about 95km by road from Kuching.

When resettling in the kampung over a century ago, the villagers were mostly pagans before Christianity was introduced there in the 1960’s and Islam in the 1970’s.

Last weekend, I made my fourth visit to the village and each time I was there, I was pretty convinced of the spirit of oneness among the kampung folk. They are still strongly attached to their cultural and ethnic associations and practices.

They remain friendly, helpful and obliged to help each other, getting things – events and minor projects – done in true gotong royong spirit as a harmonious community.

What is significant about Kampung Senah Rayang is that their evolution seems to correlate with the same cross-cultural communications, religious tolerance and multi-faith communal co-habitation  as manifested by the people of different faiths living in the same community.

“I grew up in this village with people who are Christians and Muslims,” Rajak Temboh said.

Kampung Senah Rayang has a church and a mosque. The village’s patron saint is St James and the name of its mosque is Masjid Darul Ehsan Rayang.

Rajak added that for decades, the people in the village had been living in unity and harmony despite coming from different religious backgrounds.

The 43-year-old said the villagers’ respect and tolerance for each other’s religion and culture has been commendable – the same now as before.

“The beduk and azan from the mosque during prayer times are normal to us – we really have no problem with them,” he added.

Kampung Senah Rayang is a small village of no particular significance until Felcra came in and developed the villagers’ Native Customary Right land with oil palm estates.

Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri James Dawos Mamit greeting the villagers upon his arrival at the Kampung Senah Rayang’s Ramah Tama Aidil Fitri.

Today, it is accessible by tar-sealed road – up and down a steep hill. It is situated in a valley by the river and surrounded by hills and natural beauty with green secondary forests and farms all around.

The land is used mainly for agriculture with over 75 per cent of the total area used for oil palm plantation.

The mosque and chapel in Kampung Senah Rayang were built quite near each other – separated only by a tributary of the main river that flows across the village.

Today, the village has become one of the attractions for both local and foreign visitors alike – thanks to its clean and scenic riverine landscape and waterfall.

Except on festivals or government functions, taking a day tour around Kampung Senah Rayang or spending leisure time at its waterfall is not free though.

Each visitor is charged RM6 for a tour of the village or a bath in the river, and RM4 to go to the waterfall, about 20 minutes walk from the kampung.

Above all, Kampung Senah Rayang prides itself on the fact that Christians and Muslims still live side by side in a close-knit community.

Remarkably, the Senah Rayang community have remained steadfast in preserving their harmonious way of life – no quarrel between Christians and Muslims but continued understanding and tolerance among them.

This suggests that the basis for cohabitation has more to do with cultural heritage than religious beliefs or political convictions.

The Bidyauh culture is still very much alive among the villagers where traditional dances and beats of the gong remain the trademark welcome for important guests during official functions.

Rajak who is St James Rayang’s Chapel security and development committee chairman, said family ties and cultures had kept villagers together over the years.

“In our kampung, there are even Christians and Muslims living together. For example, my wife is a Christian while her sister and brother are Muslims but they still live together in the same house.”

Rajak said Christians and Muslims in Senah Rayang never had any problem with each other’s way of worship or religious practice.

“The level of religious tolerance is very high. Although of different faith, we celebrate every festival together in true spirit of religious harmony.

“If our fellow villagers from another faith need our help, we are always ready to lend a hand,” said Rajak, who also heads Kampung Senah Rayang Rela platoon.

There are now about 85 households in the village of whom only 24 are Christian families.

SK St James Rayang.

Children in this village receive their early education at SK St James Rayang, set up by a Christian missionary in the 1960’s.

Although there are more Muslims in the kampung now, the Christians are never ignored or discriminated against.

Village chief Roslee Abdullah said at every local occasion, function or event, the villagers, regardless of their faith, would pull together and their co-operation has little to do with religious beliefs or political affiliations.

He noted that a strong day-to-day sense of community life has been in existence in the village to this very day.

For instance, Muslims would help Christian families in time of adversities while Christians would do likewise for the Muslim quarter.

“I personally have fond memories of growing up in a mixed-faith community.

“Throughout my life, I have lived side by side Christians in my village and we have always helped each other,” Roslee said.

He revealed in some families, there are Muslims and Christians living together.

“There are families where the father is a Muslim and the children Christians or the father Christian and the children Muslims. They still live together in harmony under the same roof … no problem at all.”

Roslee said the villagers had no problem with one another because they believe no religion wants its followers to hate others.

He pointed out that the Muslims and the Christians had always been very supportive of each other on any occasions, including social activities.

The village headman said in any activities, organised in the kampung, the villagers – young and old – would participate in a friendly and harmonious atmosphere.

He added that although inter-faith marriages were rare, many relationships blossomed under these conditions.

“This well-balanced community life is a legacy that our generation inherited and it is not lost. This way of life will continue, not just for now but also in the future.”

Johari Mohd Jeprydin said since his childhood, he never felt or was made to feel he should behave differently towards the Christians in his community.

The 50-year-old said over the years, his Christian friends would celebrate Muslim festivals with them and likewise Muslims would celebrate Christian festivals with the Christians in the village.

“We have a longhouse in the village where we always celebrate Muslim and Christian festivals together.

“We also visit each other’s open house and celebrate each other’s festivals,” Johari said.

Even now, Christians and Muslims in Senah Rayang still share the same language and the same space without infringing on each other’s boundary or faith.

They have managed to uphold this way of life for decades.